For carefully selected patients, radiation therapy can play an important role in the treatment of liver cancer. Radiation oncologists work closely with other team members to ensure radiation therapy is completely coordinated with the patient’s overall treatment plan.
After a patient undergoes liver cancer surgery, a pathologist examines all tissues removed during the operation. If tumor or lymph node samples indicate the surgery was unable to remove the cancer completely, the patient may receive radiation treatments aimed at eradicating remaining cancer cells. A variety of radiation systems available at Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin precisely target cancerous tumors while sparing surrounding healthy tissue.
Definitive Management of Liver Cancer
Patients who are not candidates for surgery or other therapies may receive radiation as their primary treatment. This can include patients with primary tumors that are in an unfavorable location within the liver. In other instances, patients may receive radiation treatments when other therapies have failed to achieve complete tumor control.
SBRT for Liver Metastases
The liver as a whole cannot tolerate high doses of radiation. However, researchers have recently discovered that small portions of the liver can be treated with very high radiation doses. A new technique called Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT) takes advantage of this discovery to treat liver cancer.
SBRT treats small areas with very high doses of radiation while sparing healthy tissue within the liver and in nearby organs such as the kidneys, lungs and heart. This approach combines several technologies and techniques:
- Advanced radiation systems are used to tightly shape the radiation dose to the tumor target.
- CT scans before administering each radiation dose verify the location and shape of the lesion.
- Special gating techniques are used to account for breathing motion.
The result is precise radiation therapy delivered at doses high enough to eradicate the cancer. SBRT requires fewer treatment visits — three to five sessions over 2 weeks, as opposed to the typical radiation course lasting 6 to 7 weeks.
Palliative Care for Advanced Disease
Radiation therapy can also be used as a palliative treatment for patients whose liver cancer has spread to other parts of the body. For example, treating brain metastases with radiation can relieve headaches and seizures, improve motor function and sensation, and dramatically improve alertness. Radiation therapy can also relieve the pain of bone metastases.